By Bruce Stambaugh
Empathy and compassion are two admirable human qualities that seem to be in short supply in today’s politically polarized world. Each one of us can change that tone if we try.
As the Independence Day holiday approaches each year, I reread the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This time I mainly focused on the First Amendment. Here’s what it says.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
When written, the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition were paramount to the effectiveness of not only the Constitution but to the life of the young Republic itself. That is why they are listed first.
In that straightforward paragraph is the recipe for freedom for the country’s population without hindrance from the government, as the founders and the people they represented had personally endured. They remembered too well the frustration of pleasing a king and conforming to a state-endorsed religion. Here, all were, are, and should be free to practice their religion or no religion, speak openly, gather freely, and petition their leaders unhindered by any authorities.
I see more than several sacred freedoms listed in these hallowed and cherished documents. I detect both empathy and compassion intentionally interwoven into the tapestry of documents that formed our great country.
Empathy is a teachable tool for compassion. If I am to be tolerant of others despite obvious differences, I have to listen to what their priorities, requests, and suggestions are. In that manner, I learn to be empathetic towards others no matter how I personally feel about the issue.
Mind you, I’m no expert on American history, the Constitution, or even empathy and compassion for that matter. I’m sharing from the viewpoint of my own personal experiences, both in receiving and giving of those two admirable traits. No more. No less.
The Founding Fathers knew that this budding nation needed structure so that all who entered its borders would be treated equally. That concept wasn’t entirely accurate when the Constitution was written. Permitting slavery was an obvious exception. That’s why we have amendments, to change with the times, and like it or not, the times always bring change. Witness the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery after the Civil War.
The Founding Fathers devised our government with three separate but equal branches. The President and his appointees comprise the Executive Branch. Congress is the Legislative or law-making division. The Supreme Court is the third element of the federal government, the Judicial Branch.
None of the three branches has any more power over the other two branches of government. Historically, their influences tip, like a farmer milking on a three-legged stool. But when the job is finished, the stool returns to balance. That is by design.
As our country and its citizenry again approach this Fourth of July holiday in celebration of being a free democratic republic, we have important questions to answer. Can we, will we honor the wishes of our Founding Fathers by actively and intentionally living out the ideal they created? Can we be compassionate and empathetic to all persons we meet?
How we express our freedoms individually will shape the path and tenor collectively that this great nation takes. The question at hand today is this: Will compassion and empathy continue to be the thread that connects these precious First Amendment rights?
© Bruce Stambaugh 2017
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